The internet is a very scary place. It’s full of all sorts of weirdoes. If you don’t believe me go watch an episode of Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator.” Now add the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people creating malicious software for the purpose of picking your pocket, and you start to see the picture. I can’t keep hairy fifty five year old men from trying to hit on you in the singles chat room, but I can give you tips on how to keep your network protected and your computers virus free.
The first thing area we’re going to look at is securing your broadband connection with what’s known as a “hardware firewall.” If you have a dialup connection I feel sorry for you, and you can probably stop reading right here. If you’re on a broadband connection (DSL/cable/FiOS) and you’re using a standard modem without a router (FiOS customers are covered because they install a router/modem combo by default) you’re exposing your computer to all sorts of possible attacks from the outside world. Hardware firewalls don’t have to be fancy. Any kind of consumer router (Linksys, D-Link, etc.) will do just fine. Besides the benefit of protecting your broadband connection, these routers will allow you to share your internet connection between multiple computers – wired & wireless.
The next step in ensuring your safety is making sure your computer is up to date with all Windows/third party software updates. By default Windows should be automatically downloading & installing updates for your computer at 3:00 AM each day. Sometimes for different reasons this doesn’t occur like it should and your computer can be left un-patched. To remedy the situation you can visit www.windowsupdate.com and manually look for any necessary updates that your computer might need. You can also check your update preferences by going to Control panel and looking for Automatic updates (Windows XP) and Windows Update (Windows Vista & Windows 7). Besides windows updates, your computer should also have the latest updates for third party software like Adobe Flash & Java. Java is the third party application that has a little orange coffee cup that’s always popping up in your notification area asking you to install the latest update. The other offender – Flash-is also being updated often. Any prompts you receive to update Adobe Air, or Adobe Flash should be handled ASAP. Aside from providing security hole fixes, these updates provide compatibility/performance enhancements.
Now that we’ve covered the basics fundamentals we’ll dive into the main portion which is security/Antivirus software, or more commonly referred to as “Internet Security Suites” because they include a firewall component. There are LOTS of options on the market. Most of you are familiar with the offerings from McAfee, Norton, and maybe AVG. That’s because some of these were pre-installed on a lot of computers you may have purchased from Dell or HP.
For the longest time Norton was probably the most popular software with consumers, but it was also the worst. It was pretty easily agreed by everyone in the IT community that Norton software was overly bloated (slowed down the computer) and overall a poor performer. For a long time the first thing I did on any computer equipped with Norton was to remove it. It’s funny considering a lot of the time you couldn’t even uninstall it if you wanted to. You would have to use a special “Norton removal tool.” McAfee wasn’t any better. It was lighter on system resources, but it wasn’t any good at keeping your computer safe either.
A lot has changed though over the last few years. Maybe it’s because there have been more and more Free AVs hitting the market causing those resting on their laurels to step up their game. If you’ve got money to burn we’ll give you our recommendation on what we think is the best paid for protection, but If your wallet is light, fret not, because we’ll also go over what we think is the best free software as well.
At the top of the free category is Comodo Internet Security. It uses something called HIPS (host intrusion protection system) to protect the computer by keeping programs from making any changes to system files. The firewall component also tests higher than the competition. The problem with Comodo’s HIPS is that it’s really designed for the more advanced user. It depends on the user to allow or deny certain programs access to system files. The problem with that is that the average user doesn’t know his hand from his foot, let alone which applications can be trusted. At the same time, If you really know what you’re doing, and don’t mind taking the time to give safe applications permissions to access the web/system files then this really is a good option.
The second free AV we recommend comes from Microsoft. Microsoft Security Essentials does a fine job detecting a wide variety of malware threats that are on the market today. Its only downside is that it doesn’t include a firewall component & depends on Windows Firewall. Alternatively you could always install Comodo’s free firewall to compliment MSE for a good combo.
Our third piece of free software we recommend isn’t actually an AV at all. The free version of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is an on demand scanning program that does an excellent job of removing all sorts of misc malware including some root kit infections. For a $24.99 you can upgrade to the full edition which includes a real-time protection module. Overall it’s an excellent addition to any defense, even one that includes a paid for AV.
As far as paid for software goes our favorite is Norton Internet Security 2011 which will protect 3 computers for just $69 a year. Five years ago I would have never thought I would hear myself say such a thing, but Symantec has stepped up its game. Gone are the days that Norton wreaked havoc on your computers performance – it now has one of the SMALLEST memory footprints in the business.
It also has a lot of unique features to help protect your computer. One of my favorite features added in 2010, Download Insight, analyzes every file you download and compares it against a database to see if the file can be deemed safe. If Norton decides that it’s unsafe – maybe the file is too new, or it’s only on a number of other computers in the Norton Network – it will automatically quarantine the file so you can’t execute it. If Norton accidentally quarantines a file that you know is safe (never happened to me) then there are ways to retrieve it. This feature is helpful to help protect against new malware AVs might not have a signature for.
The biggest aspect of any AV program though is its ability to detect & remove malware, and in that aspect Norton has been very impressive in our own testing, but it’s also very popular with all the online review sites. Looking at this chart from AV-comparatives.org’s malware removal test of September of 2009 (It’s from 2009, but they’re using Norton 2010) you can see that both Norton (listed as Symantec) and Microsoft Security Essentials, mentioned earlier, did very well against the competition. In fact, in AV comparative’s 2009 Summary report Norton took first place against 15 other AVs. Its positives were listed as: very high detection rates, low system impact, and ease of use. That’s the reason we like & recommend Norton – not only does it do an excellent job, but ANYBODY can use it. It sounds cheesy, but it’s very “set it and forget it.”
Last but not least, it doesn’t matter how good your protection is if you plan to go willy nilly all over the net. A lot of adult & online gambling websites are traps. Just remember – if anything looks too good to be true, it probably is. Another known trap comes in the form of pop ups. If you ever receive a popup while browsing the web that says “You’re computer is infected. Download X to make the problem go away,” close the window and move on. Sometimes you might have trouble closing the window. If you do press Ctrl+Alt+Del, go to the processes tab, and end just end the browser process (firefox.exe – firefox, iexplore.exe – internet explorer, etc.).
Next, if you or your children use Peer2Peer software (Kazaa, Limeware) understand that you’re doing so at your own risk. I’m not here to judge – we’ve all done it at one time or another, but illegal music/software is one of the best ways to get infected. It’s also smart to not open any e-mail attachments unless you know it’s safe. That means if you get a chain e-mail from a friend with “the most hilarious video ever.mov” attached – the smart move is to fight the urge to open it. Your friend could have infected his own machine with the same file and not even know it.
Hopefully this post helps you keep your computer virus free, but if something goes wrong we’re always available to help. We’re usually available that same day to come out to your home or small business & we guarantee our work.